Letters to the Editor


Don't forget the good the President has done
The President, it does seem, is guilty of many things. The change of government has created the capacity - and even an enthusiasm - for unearthing the details of how she subverted the machinery of the state and betrayed the trust placed in her by the people.

Taking the President to task is acceptable, but we must not forget that she used the same presidential powers for many a good deed.

The President and the PA have taken pains to remind us of some of their most notable achievements. Most notably, the President was able to forge the possibilities for peace by developing the idea of devolving power and initiating the Norwegian facilitation.

There are, however, many other positive initiatives, which we have now forgotten. I would like to draw attention to just one of them.

On her initiative, supported by able advisors, the President in 1997 launched a task force to formulate a tobacco and alcohol policy.

Some of the recommendations made by the Task Force were, not surprisingly, resisted by the alcohol and tobacco industry in Sri Lanka. To her credit the President took a stand that was principled rather than merely efficacious in pursuing the recommended policies.

Although the draft legislation on the National Tobacco Alcohol Authority is still to find its way through Parliament, the Tobacco Alcohol Unit at the Presidential Secretariat has made tremendous advances in curbing the production of illicit alcohol and generating data and analysis for Sri Lanka with regard to tobacco and alcohol consumption and the curtailment of adverse health effects.

One vital policy recommendation was that tobacco taxes should be increased in step with inflation so as to keep cigarettes from becoming cheaper in real terms and that the tax revenue should be shared with the producer in a way that increased the share of government revenue at least in the same proportion as it increased the profits of the manufacturer. (It is a little known fact that every time the government increases the price of cigarettes a significant share of the price increase is for the benefit of the manufacturer and only a portion of the increase is an increase in the government tax.)

The Task Force found that despite the tobacco tax bringing in more than 20 billion rupees a year to the Treasury, there was not a dedicated official who studied the taxation structure and sought to set and adjust taxes in an optimal way. The Treasury relied exclusively on information supplied to it by the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) in designing a tax structure for the product.

Such incompetence is rarely accidental and there are no shortages of government bureaucrats who act as spokesmen for CTC. The government revenue for the first six months of this year was only Rs. 126.1 billion, falling 13 billion short of the projected target. CTC revenue and profits, however, have been rising. Even in 2001 when the company claimed to be most affected by taxes on cigarettes, the profits were large enough to result in a shareholder dividend of 36 percent. In the first three months of this year, CTC net profits rose by 14.38 percent.

Yet, it is in this backdrop of falling government revenue and increasing CTC profits that the excise duty on cigarettes has been revised and reduced. The justification for these reductions has been drawn from the smokescreen that has been generated about smuggled cigarettes. However, there is no government study that has corroborated the figures that are regularly claimed by the CTC about loss of revenue due to smuggling.

While billions of rupees in government revenue are at stake, the Treasury has been accepting without independent study these claims made by the industry.

It is in this context of industry pressure and alleged bureaucratic collusion (which if not resulting from corruption is tantamount at least to criminal negligence) that the President took a principled position with regard to policy and moved forward on the recommendations of the Task force.

There was perhaps much that the President jeopardised in terms of personal ambition such as funding for election campaigns and support of the business community by the bold decisions that she made. But it is precisely this capacity of the President to, sometimes, courageously stand up for principles rather than always making decisions purely on effective and manipulative motives that still makes her an attractive leader for the people of Sri Lanka.

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones," said Shakespeare. The President today is perhaps in danger of falling victim to this sad reality, and many who suffered her alleged wrongdoings may even rejoice at the prospect. But for the sake of fairness we must try not to forget the good.

The President has rightly been called to account for the billions lost to the Treasury on the import of luxury cars. But we must simultaneously recognise the billions that the Treasury gained by the principled approach the President took, over the taxation of cigarettes.

Will anyone ask on what rationale and what study the tobacco taxes were reduced? Was it perhaps a payoff for funding the election campaign of the new government? What is the difference between a billion rupee loss to the Treasury on luxury cars for one election campaign, and a billion rupee loss on reduced cigarette taxes as a payoff for supporting another?
Nishan de Mel
Colombo 6

Hope Project Chairman clarifies
This is in response to a letter by A.T.S. Paul in The Sunday Times of September 1, 2002. We wish to clarify the following:

Hope is a project undertaken by the Sri Lankan Cricketers' Association and the Lions Club of Colombo Somerset District 306 B. The project aims at raising Rs. 750 million towards the construction of a 750-bed cancer hospital.

In accordance with an MoU signed with the Government of Sri Lanka on April 3, 2002, land was allocated within the premises of the Cancer Institute Maharagama for the project. As per the MoU, on completion of the construction of the hospital, it will be handed over through the Ministry of Health to the Cancer Institute Maharagama which will run it. Details were provided through a news conference on March 19, 2002.) Furthermore, the government provided charity status to the Hope project on June 12, 2002.

Documentation with regard to this project is available at the project office at 16A, Ward Place, Colombo 7.

Concern has been expressed by Mr. Paul on the fact there is no office completely dedicated to this project. We wish to clarify that the project office is within the premises of Isuru Engineering, the Managing Director of which is Mahesh Pasqual, a member of the Lions Club of Colombo Somerset and a Region Chairman of Lions Club International District 306B.

Unlike many other charities and NGOs, all those working on this project are doing these a voluntary basis and are not receiving any remuneration. We would like to point out that they are investing a large part of their time and resources for no tangible gain. The endeavour is to ensure that funds are generated as quickly as possible so as not to exceed the budget for constructing the hospital due to delays.

Keeping this in mind, lapses in providing adequate information may have occurred. While we appreciate Mr. Paul for pointing out these lapses we regret the inconvenience caused to him. As requested by him names of the office bearers of the project are as follows.

Project Team/Office bearers
(1) Lion Mahesh Pasqual - Chairman. (2) Roshan Mahanama - Vice Chairman. (3) Lion Marlon Bakelmun - Secretary. (4) Lion Senarath Jayawardena - Assistant Secretary. (5) Lion Upali Samarasinghe - Treasurer. (6) Lion Lalith Hewage - Assistant Treasurer. (7) Mahela Jayawardena - Board Member. (8) Sanath Jayasuriya - Board Member. (9) Marvan Attapattu - Board Member. (10) Lion Iqbal Hassanally - Board Member. (11) Lion Nazmy Thayyib- Board Member. (12) Lion Janaka Hapangama - Board Member. (13) Chandana Liyanapatabendy - Board Member.

Auditors/Accountants: M/s. Ernest & Young, 201, De Saram Place, Colombo 10. Key patrons Sri Lanka Cricketers' Association and Lions Club of Colombo Somerset District 306 B
Mahesh Pasqual
Chairman, Hope Project

Unruly behaviour of ministerial kids
Recently newspapers reported an incident where the son and grandson of two prominent ministers of the UNF government had misbehaved at a private party in Colombo. One of them when chastised by the organisers over their behaviour reportedly asked, "Do you know who I am?". He reportedly made a complaint to the police saying an organiser had assaulted him. The police promptly acted on it and produced the organiser in court.

The incident brings to mind the so-called Kekilla justice. While the final outcome of the case in point is unclear, the fact remains that these two youngsters behaved with impunity in public, thinking they could transcend the laws of the land solely because their fathers or grandfathers happened to be ministers.

This is not the first incident of its kind. The son of another minister pulled a more violent stunt at a new-year party and made the participants run for their lives. On that occasion, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly advised the minister concerned to rein in his son from bringing disrepute to the government. Unfortunately, other ministers seem to have failed to appreciate the precedent and warn their own children against such behaviour.

The children of ministers (and MPs) should understand that their parents hold a high position, thanks to the common people who voted them in and pay for their luxury comfort. Should the politicians' children fail to see this, it is the duty of their parents to enlighten them.
Lakshan W
Via e-mail

Stealing the match
We were proud as Sri Lankans when our lion-hearted cricket team won the Morocco Cup by defeating South Africa and Pakistan. Swarnavahini had the privilege of telecasting all the matches for the Sri Lankan viewing public. But it was unfortunate that we were denied viewing the matches fully.

The Morocco Cup consisted of seven limited over games. The number of overs bowled was 674. We had to watch two to four advertisements in between overs. By trying to show those ads, the viewers were denied seeing the first ball of the starting over, almost every time.

In addition to that, at the end of every over, as soon as the bat hit the sixth ball of the over, the cricket was discontinued and the advertisement was aired.

What happened from the time the bat hit the ball, to the moment the umpire called 'over' was not known to us; we could only guess. There were instances that the sixth ball was a 'no ball' and the next ball was not shown at all.

Swarnavahini, please do not disappoint the cricket loving public the next time your channel shows international cricket matches.
Lalith Wijeratne
Via e-mail

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